Obama Does What Bush and Cheney Would Not:
Since the nutzoid right has used as a bizarro talking point the fact that President Barack Obama didn't speak to the public until three days after the taint bomber succeeded in making scrotum fritters, let's use another measure of time. Remember the moment when George W. Bush's former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke appeared before the 9/11 Commission and said, "Your government failed you"? Remember the catharsis of that act, of the simple acknowledgment of blame? That was on March 24, 2004, which by rough calculation and use of complex algorithms is a fuck of a lot longer after September 11, 2001 than January 7, 2010 is after December 25, 2009.
Let's give some credit here amid our constant dismay on the left with the President: Yesterday, Barack Obama did something quite extraordinary in these weaselly times when he stood up and took blame for the fuck-ups that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to publicly turn his balls into boiled jizz bags. The President actually looked like a pissed-off boss when he spoke, like a man who understood what might have happened had Abdulmutallab decided to try to blow up the toilet instead of the flotation device under his ass. As Joan Walsh in Salon says, you can't imagine George W. Bush ever treating the American public with such honesty; you can't imagine him thinking he could trust Americans to reveal what went wrong on 9/11. Barack Obama was more of a real man, a real leader, yesterday than the faux macho George W. Bush was in his entire presidency.
Obama's speech was fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which was his saying that "the buck stops with me." There was a subtle thread throughout of a repudiation of the way the Bush administration treated terrorism. "We are at war," he asserted, but then in a fuck-you to those who wanted him to say the word "war," he added, "We are at war with al-Qaeda." That's an easily apprehended specificity, a group (however diffuse and ill-defined it may be), and not a vague notion like a "war on terror" or, as Bush said, a "war with extremists." What Obama could have said that he did not is, "Man, Bush left me with a shitty, hole-filled security infrastructure that's built with Tinker Toys and tape." Instead, he said what's fucked and what he's gonna do.
Most bracingly, Obama told Dick Cheney, "Go fuck yourself," by saying, "Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries want, and so long as I am President, we will never hand them that victory. We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children." In other words, don't go bugnuts just because one dude on one plane lit a fire.
(Let's put aside for the moment the administration's continuation of some of Bush's policies in the treatment of, say, detainees at Bagram prison in Afghanistan.)
The system screwed up. Security shouldn't come down to whether or not some poorly-paid airline worker types in a name correctly. Get some geeks from Google to fix that. But the President, not some rogue former administration member, admitted the screw-ups to us and said we're working on it. And he told us to not be children about security: "But even the best intelligence can't identify in advance every individual who would do us harm...there is, of course, no foolproof solution." One piece of advice to seal the openness and accountability deal: fire some people. Accept a resignation. That would make create a new paradigm.
As for Richard Clarke, you may remember that he was viciously denigrated by Republicans and smeared by the Bush administration as a glory hound trying to sell books. Yeah, he was trying to sell books. And he became a fucking hero for his honesty. It's possible to do both. And when he made his statement to the 9/11 families, he didn't know what would happen. That's a man with balls standing among the eunuchs. Disagree with Obama as you may, it's somewhat comforting in this cold landscape to know that this time around, that man is the one standing to talk to us all, that the leader is the grown-up in the room.